Pick of the Month - April 2000
1965 Gibson Firebird III

1980 has barely begun and XTC are already on their gruelling first major tour of the U.S. A day off is looming, the first that doesn't involve driving overland to the next show. Oh, joy! And where is this oasis of longed-for leisure time to be found? Bloody freezing Royal Oak Michigan (a suburb of Detroit), that's where…

Nothing else for it, then; phone calls made to home, laundry done, time to grab the Yellow Pages and check out the local music store action. Check available funds and call cab. Maybe I'll find that Ricky 12-string this time… or a tasty old Precision Bass. In those days, 48 pence bought you a dollar—very good news indeed for cash-strapped Brit shoppers.

And lo, there it was, hanging on the wall at Rock City, pristine as the day it left the plant; probably never ever left the State. A perfect example from the re-designed Firebird range introduced by Gibson in late 1965 to replace the radical reverse-body models that had been such a commercial disaster for the company (stay tuned for future feature). But it didn't play well; obviously stored for much of its life, it wasn't set up correctly, it was impossible to tune and the selector switch had virtually seized up. But I had to have it. It was to all intents and purposes brand new, complete with all the quality control shortcomings typical of the period, which would continue to undermine Gibson's reputation into the late 60s and 70s.

I'd had the guitar nearly 5 years before Jonny Kinkade came to the rescue and got the thing into a playable condition. He mounted the bridge and centre pick-ups on wooden plynths, with spring-loaded adjusting screws for height. He dressed the upper frets and worked on the nut, and it now stays in tune. These guitars are oft-maligned amongst guitar-tisans but this one sounds superb and now plays brilliantly. And it still looks brand new!

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Mark Owen